When we write stuff, we don’t have the luxury of emphasising our words with things like voice and mannerisms. Instead, we use visual tools such as emojis (🦉❤️) and CAPS LOCK to add meaning and personality to our written speech.
Likewise, brands use typography to showcase their personality in written form. They’ve chosen to use one or couple of typefaces that represent the attitude and brand message. Typography is like a voice in a visual form.
In this article, I’m going to describe how Owl Basket brand got its visual voice; the Mali typeface. I’ll give some useful tips so that you can start planning your own brand typography!
About this series
Having a brand is not just about getting yourself a logo. It’s about your image, the reputation that your audience forms of you. It’s what they think about you, not what you think about yourself.
However, you can affect what you want other people to think about you. You can choose the way you represent yourself. Through visual language, through your “voice”, through your interactions with people.
With branding, you can build yourself an image, or reputation that reflects your values and attracts your desired kind of company. And the fun thing is that anyone can do it!
This series is meant to be a simple, one-step-at-a-time approach to the many aspects of the branding process. I’m going to use our very own team brand, “Owl Basket” as an example in every step of the way.
What’s your brand’s voice?
What would you think about a brand that writes everything in the Impact font? Would it sound serious? Intimidating? Unfriendly?
What about a brand that writes everything in Comic Sans? Would it sound playful? Childish? Naïve?
To find an appropriate brand typography, you should start by defining what you want your brand’s voice to sound like. Do you want it to sound like a friendly ball of energy? Or perhaps a professional scholar?
As I discussed in my previous blog post about word mark creation, coming up with descriptors helps you find a personality for your brand. And once you know your brand’s personality, it’ll help you find a fitting font as your brand’s voice.
For example, our descriptors for the Owl Basket brand were: casual and approachable, but also professional and reliable. We wanted to sound like the friendly team of creatives that we are, but with a sense of professionalism to our craft.
Gather up a bunch of fonts that sound like your brand
Once you have an idea about your brand’s personality, it’s time to start gathering up a list of font candidates. You can start by checking the font library on your computer. Or browse online libraries, such as DaFont, Font Squirrel or Google Fonts.
Choosing existing fonts is the quickest way, but you could also consider creating your very own brand font. Or you could hire someone to do it for you. However, do bear in mind that creating a proper font is very time consuming and costs a lot of money.
Whatever fonts you end up choosing for your candidate list, remember to make sure that you’re able to get a license that allows you to use the font in all of your future use cases! Typefaces are art just like paintings or music, which means you have to have a license to use them legally.
As a good rule of thumb, I like to only consider fonts that come with a full commercial use license. Because even though I might be using the font non-commercially right now, I might want to use it on something that I want to sell later. At that point I don’t have to worry about licensing issues, since I got the full license from the get-go.
Compare your font candidates and make a choice
When you’ve listed a bunch of fonts that sound like your brand, the only thing left to do is to make a choice. Test out your candidates on headlines and longer lines of text. Which ones stand out as the voice of your brand?
Owl Basket had a total of 14 font candidates. The options ranged from playful handwritten fonts to uniform professional ones. We compared them to each other and discussed which one felt the best for our brand.
In the end, Mali from Google Fonts won out.
Mali was ideal for what we were aiming for: it felt handwritten and casual, while also being uniform enough for a bit of a professional vibe that we wanted.
What’s even better was that Mali comes with as many as 6 different font weights. They are: ExtraLight, Light, Regular, Medium, SemiBold and Bold. That’s more than enough variety for any future needs. For now, we’ve decided to only use the Regular and Bold font weights.
Backup fonts for the web just in case
You might have found the perfect font for your brand, but unfortunately there might be times when people can’t see it. Those times are when a browser fails to load your desired font.
When someone visits our Owl Basket website, their browser displays all the text in Mali font. This is done by importing the font from the Google Fonts library. (You could also host the font on your website and import the font from there.)
However, things don’t run smoothly all the time. Google Fonts might go down for a moment (as unlikely as that might be). Our visitor’s browser might bug out. A line of code might fail to execute.
When a web browser can’t import a font, it opts to display a backup font. And you can decide what that backup font should be. If you don’t, the browser will make the choice for you, which might result in font that doesn’t fit your brand’s personality at all.
So, in case anything ever goes wrong with your primary font, it’s good to pick one or two backup fonts. They should preferably be very common fonts or web safe fonts. Just so that the browser can load them from the person’s device, rather than from a host that’s not available at the moment.
For the Owl Basket, we’ve chosen Chalkboard as the primary backup font. It retains the casual and playful feel of Mali pretty well, while also being a quite common font.
The only backside in Chalkboard is that it’s only common on Apple devices. That’s why we had to choose a second backup font, to take into account Windows and the rest of the mobile devices.
That’s why Comic Sans MS is our secondary backup font. Out of the few extremely common fonts, it’s the most fitting one for our casual and happy brand. Even though it might not look even a bit professional, like Mali does.